On a day where the snow came down like salt showering over french fries, I decided ducking into the Chicago Cultural Center on the way home seemed like a good idea. I just so happened to walk into the exhibit Paint Paste Sticker, Chicago Street Art.

Before I even reached the main exhibit, I got a taste for what I was in for just by stepping into the building. On the right of me was a CTA bus stop shelter with a vibrant tag spray painted on the inside by local street artist Zore. It’s something that would feel right at home on a street corner. Next to the door is a larger than life size sign, that nearly reaches the ceiling, which simply reads “you are beautiful”.

Inside the exhibit I found examples of just about every form of graffiti art imaginable. Some of the work is presented on standard gallery canvas, while most of it is in its traditional form, as you would expect to see on the street. Many of the pieces look as though they could have been picked right off a lamp post or a mail box. One of the greatest things about graffiti is the diversity that comes along with it, there are almost no limits when it comes to this medium. If you can conceive, create, and stick it on the street, it’ll fit right in with the world of street art.

The gallery setting allows these artists the ability to show work that might be impossible to imagine out on the street (or would have an extremely short life span). It also gives them a chance to experiment in different mediums, such as a chair made entirely of used spray paint cans or a giant inflatable pillow covered in tags.

The exhibit has brought together some of Chicago’s most well-known street artists. The average Chicagoan probably doesn’t know many of these artists by name, but has most likely seen their work scattered throughout the city. Artists like Zore, you are beautiful, Tsel, Traz, Thor, Risk, Cartoon Da Pharo, Pawn Works, Nice one, Ish, G.P., The Champ, Capser, Nick Adam, and Flex make this exhibit a truly comprehensive collection of street artists.

The work is loaded with the usual critiques on culture and society that we’ve all come to expect in street art, except now it’s been introduced into to the clean white walls of the fine art world.

The work brings with it a sense of irony,  especially given its place on the walls of the Chicago Cultural Center. In the hay days of graffiti, the ’80s and ’90s, Chicago had some of the strictest laws against tagging city buildings, and they aggressively enforced those laws. It’s a big reason Chicago did not end up looking like New York City in those days.

What most politicians, officials and police didn’t understand about tagging was that it was a way for inner-city kids who had nothing to put their name on something. They were taking ownership of their surroundings. Much like a novelist takes credit for his work on the cover of a book, so too were these taggers.

From its humble beginnings of quickly scrawled nicknames on walls, graffiti has developed into a true form of artistic expression. This work is certainly deserving of a spot inside one of Chicago’s finest places for art and culture.


Chicago Street Art Stories

Saturday, January 11 at 1-4pm in the Claudia Cassidy Theater (2nd Floor North)

The event is an open mic for the artists featured in Paint Paste Sticker: Chicago Street Art and an opportunity for the public to hear their stories and see images of their work.

Paint Paste Sticker: Chicago Street Art is on display at the Chicago Cultural Center until Sunday, January 12th. Admission is free to the public. 

For more information on the exhibit please visit the Chicago Cultural Center’s official website.